DEAR ABBY,

I am a 34-year-old man who is somewhat socially awkward. I want to start dating and hopefully find that special someone. The problem is, I have an addiction. It’s not to alcohol or drugs, but to online games.

I have been gaming since I was 18, shortly after I joined the military, and it has been the majority of my social interaction. I have avoided friends and family and spent thousands of dollars over the years on this “hobby.”

I have tried several times to quit. I succeed for a few months, but I always go back, thinking I can play just a little bit. I sincerely want to quit. I don’t want to go on like this, but I don’t know how to break this cycle.

Until I can sort this out, I don’t think I should become involved with anyone else. I feel like if I don’t do this now, this is what the rest of my life will be, and it’s frightening. Counseling is out of the question because I would have to report it to my job, which could jeopardize my future employment. Is there any advice about how to fix this problem?

— LOST IN CYBERSPACE

DEAR LOST,

I’m glad you have recognized that your gaming has become a problem and want to do something about it. That’s the first step in fixing it.

Video games are the fastest-growing form of media entertainment. Because of the sophisticated technology involved, the games can be addictive, and the social aspects of them can make them a hard habit to break without professional help.

Treatment may involve private counseling or even require inpatient care. However, if that is unworkable, On-Line Gamers Anonymous (olganon.org) may be a helpful alternative for you. It is a 12-step program based on the principles of AA. You may want to check it out.

Don’t talk about

the hereafter

DEAR ABBY,

My dad recently passed away. It was unexpected. Many people have sent condolences, which was very thoughtful. My problem is, I’m an atheist, and many of them have said things like “He’s in a better place now.”

I don’t mind the prayers accompanied with the condolences. I believe everyone’s beliefs should be respected, and the prayers are heartfelt good wishes. I have a HUGE problem, however, with people basically telling me that Dad is better off dead than alive. That’s preposterous! My father is better off here, laughing with his family, enjoying life and playing with his grandchildren.

How do I respond to those people without sounding snarky? I have been biting my tongue so I won’t let them know how much it offends me, but I really think people should know that those words in particular are just horrible.

— GRIEVING DAUGHTER

DEAR GRIEVING,

I’m printing your letter because you are not the first grieving family member to have shared those sentiments with me. But please understand that the subject of death makes many people very uncomfortable, and they don’t know what the comforting thing to say is.

Readers, it’s sufficient to say, “I heard the sad news. I’m so very sorry for your loss.” (PERIOD.)

This kid is out of control, man

DEAR ABBY,

I am in a loving relationship with a kind and caring man, “Byron.” He has a preteen son, “Eli,” from a previous relationship. Eli stays with us several days a week, and I watch him while Byron goes to work. Byron and I would like to spend the rest of our lives together, but I’m uncertain if I can truly be a stepmother to his son.

Eli often yells at and hits his dad. He calls his dad stupid, among other things. He asks for expensive items during every visit, often refuses to bathe and won’t eat anything other than fast food or pizza. If Byron has to say no to Eli because he doesn’t have the money for something, Eli throws a temper tantrum worse than a 2-year-old.

I know the kid is capable of better behavior because he doesn’t behave this way with his mother or grandmother. Byron doesn’t discipline his son at all, which allows his rude and disrespectful behavior to continue. I worry about the boy’s future. How will he hold a job if he acts this way toward a boss?

I like Eli very much. When he’s in a good mood, he’s the kindest child I can think of. But when his mood turns, it’s like the dark side takes over. I love Byron. I would like to marry him.

But I don’t know if I can handle watching Eli be so disrespectful to his father. Sometimes it makes me feel like ending things. Please advise me on what to do.

— HESITANT “STEPMOM”

DEAR “STEPMOM,”

I hope you realize that Eli behaves the way he does because his father allows it. Byron may do this because he feels guilty about the divorce and is afraid his son will “hate” him if he asserts himself. Your gentleman friend really needs to take some parenting classes because his failure to act isn’t good for Eli. Please suggest it.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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